If the old red Jeep could talk, what fishing stories it could tell, from one coast of Florida to the other, from Everglades City to Fort Lauderdale, from the Taimiami Trail to Hobe Sound.
The guy behind the wheel is Steve Kantner. He’s a fishing guide. Most of his colleagues travel by boat; Kantner, for the most part, logs his recon by car. A Honda Accord and two Jeeps have provided transportation for nearly 20 years of guiding in South Florida. He is known as the Landcaptain and has fished for everything from black bass to baby tarpon.
Although Kantner sometimes uses a canoe, most of this minimalist approach has been done on the hoof. A skiff? Who needs one?
“Steve’s not what you’d call traditional,” said Pat Ford, a close friend of Kantner’s. “He dances to his own drummer.”
Kantner, 68, started guiding in the early 1990s after more than 20 years of selling life insurance, a profession that left him unfulfilled. He said he penned his resignation letter on a single sheet of notebook paper with just two words: “I quit.”
“I never had my head in it,” Kantner said. “I saw hundreds and hundreds fail. They become so high strung. You get to the point where you’re in your 40s and you think, ‘What are they going to put on my headstone?’”
Jobless and in his early 50s, Kantner had some business cards printed with a sales pitch. Steve Kantner’s Custom Concepts for Fly Fishing.
“There was one problem,” Kantner said. “I didn’t know what the concepts were.”
It wasn’t long before the phone rang with an inquiry. Kantner set up a trip to the Everglades.
“So we get bass on every cast on a popping bug,” Kantner recalled. “The guy asked me, ‘How long have you been doing this? About an hour and a half.’”
After a writer from Fly Rod & Reel came by for a feature, the Landcaptain was rolling. Options abounded. Pompano in the surf? No problem. Grass carp in the canals? Piece of cake.
“Steve grew up here. He knows those places like the back of his hand,” Ford said. “I fished with him a bunch of times. We’d get in the car and he’d sometimes put a canoe on the top of the car. We’d drive from one spot to the other spot. He’d go a jillion miles. We’d work our way to almost Everglades City and then work our way back to the [Tamiami] Trail. Some spots would be useless. Other spots, you’d find a whole bunch of fish, everything from grass carp to snakeheads. It was a crazy experience, well worth doing.”
Kantner will fish from a skiff; he just won’t guide out of one. He made that choice early on.
“First of all, I was getting older,” Kantner said. “I was hearing more of these stories about rudeness [on the water]. I figured, even with sweet deals and all that, I’d have to pay thirty thousand dollars [for a boat] and I’d end up getting in a fight with these 26-year-old punk kids, at which time I’d shoot one of them.”
Kantner said he’s learned to appreciate each species of fish for its individual merits, but tarpon remains one of his favorites because of its sheer speed and athleticism.
“It’s like boxing with someone who’s a better boxer,” Kantner said. “You learn.”
Andy Mill, one of the world’s premier tarpon anglers on fly, is one of Kantner’s good friends. Kantner, in fact, wrote a chapter in Mill’s book, A Passion for Tarpon.
“Wonderful fisherman,” Mill said. “He combines a thorough knowledge of the sport with a natural athleticism.”
Another one of Kantner’s favorite clients is John Randolph, former editor of Fly Fisherman.
“The most influential guy in fly fishing,” Kantner said. “When he was at the helm of Fly Fisherman, they had 140,000 audited subscriptions, more than any other [fly-fishing] magazine.”
Randolph and Kantner share several common interests. Both are conservative. Both are avid anglers. Both appreciate the written word.
Kantner has written for Florida Sportsman, Salt Water Sportsman and Fly Fishing in Salt Waters among others. His book, Ultimate Guide To Fishing South Florida On Foot, was published last summer and has received positive reviews from the local fishing community and is considered go-to info for greenhorns and old salts. Chances are, you might see the author out on a Friday morning scouting for carp feeding on berries.
“Look I met a guy yesterday. I had never met him before,” Kantner said. “The next thing you know we exchange contact information and you make a friend. It’s like [practicing] medicine. You want help people. Part of the fun is figuring stuff out when a plan comes together.”
The book, 253 pages, published by Stackpole, is filled with where-to and how-to nuts-and-bolts knowledge, but Kantner pointed out that successful fishing still requires a bit of intellectual dexterity.
“The thing I try to get across is it’s not an X marks-the-spot,” Kantner said. “It’s a dynamic.”
A little sense of adventure and elbow grease doesn’t hurt, either.
“I’m a firm believer that the degree of the reward is proportional to the amount of risk --- or effort,” Kantner said.
Fishing a canal may seem like an easy proposition. Wind is usually manageable, and there’s no boat to pole. But other obstacles loom. Steep banks and guard rails can snag your fly. And there’s traffic to dodge between false casts.
Consistent success, Kantner said, starts with a tight loop --- easier said than done with a bustling Broward County highway in the background.
“The cast has to be a tight oval with a straight axis,” Kantner said. “When that thing jumps tight, it jumps tight to the rod tip. You’ve got to think geometry. It takes some overcoming. You think you’re going to snag something, but you don’t.”
For a serene setting, Kantner likes beach fishing at sunrise.
“I don’t want to give you a politician’s answer,” he said. “There are times here I like the beach. I like the smell of it, pungency of iodine blowing in your face and the sand. The wind starts to get a chill in it. And you roll down your window and it’s not wall-to-wall condos.”
Kantner still fishes solo when time allows. He writes more than he guides these days and seems content with that work flow.
“Someone once told me that with guide fishing all you can do is hope to make enough money to get up the next morning and do it all over again,” Kantner said. “I just felt I needed to make more of a contribution.”